Lionsgate // 2001 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 20th, 2002
Some things can't be erased.
On the night before his film is shown at a local festival, John stops by his old pal Vince's motel room to catch up on old times. John, a modern male with a politically correct opinion on all issues, sees his small time drug-dealing buddy as a lesson in arrested development. Vince (in town for the premiere) also has an attitude toward John, albeit a more serious one. Seems that ten years ago, as seniors in high school, John (supposedly) date raped Vince's ex-girlfriend, Amy. Vince wants an altercation. John wants to avoid the subject all together. They argue, and Vince secretly records the confrontation (and eventual confession) on tape. He plans on sharing it with Amy, an assistant DA in the town where the festival is being held. Vince wants to win Amy back with the confession. He still loves her. John wants to avoid the issue, feeling that he paid his penance "internally" over all these years. But when Amy suddenly shows up, the tables are turned on both men, as time and subjective memories give way to the truth and the end of the preconceptions all three have had about themselves, each other, and that fateful night.
Tape is a provocative experiment, at once shattering the conventions of standard filmmaking, while still providing the nuances and drama that the best movies offer. It is an intelligent and expertly crafted look at how sex, and the perception of violence, can alter entire lives. The performances here are outstanding. Ethan Hawke brings a whole new dimension to his acting language as Vince. He is simultaneously manipulating and manipulated, proud and pitiful. Robert Sean Leonard gives his character a control and balance that smoothes over, as well as hints at, the potential history of sexual misconduct he is accused of. And Uma Thurman radiates fragile beauty and contained power as the object of desire and dispute between the men. Credit director Richard Linklater, of Dazed and Confused and Waking Life fame, who tries something new here, and succeeds. Using only one set and two digital high definition cameras, he creates a riveting drama that proposes interesting questions and leaves key issues open for audience interpretation. If there is only one drawback to this film, and it is with its origins. Since it began as a one act play by Stephen Belber, the movie occasionally feels very stagy, with some of the obvious theatrical banter and long expository speeches left in for plot and continuity's sake. Still, for a three character piece that wants to question our notions of how big a role the past should play in our life, Tape is a thought provoking and intriguing look at the subject, the impact, and perception of sexual abuse.
Lions Gate Home Entertainment offers a very good DVD package. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, which does betray the digital source of the film to some extent. Still, one has to credit the direction and the set design for keeping a film that would otherwise look flat in its video image and bleak beige setting lively and visually entertaining. Sound wise, the disc is mastered far too low. You'll have to crank your home theater volume just to hear the dialogue. The Dolby Digital two-channel stereo is not very impressive, and there is little use of separation, either between characters or the characters and their surroundings. And this is unsettling for a word, not action driven piece. Lions Gate makes up for this though in the extras department. Along with a trailer and the usual cast of subtitles, there is a full length commentary by director Richard Linklater and actor Ethan Hawke. Linklater's comments are the more insightful, answering questions about the making of the film, the adaptation from stage to screen, and the talent and work involved. Hawke (admitting that he finds commenting on his performances "silly") tends to simply pat everyone on the back and fawn. Though not without its "theatrical" drawbacks, Tape is still an intense acting tour de force, tackling a tough issue with grace, humility, and a great deal of perception.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary from Director Richard Linklater and actor Ethan Hawke